Simone Bitton’s sad, thoughtful, sometimes disturbingly beautiful documentary Wall might be categorized as a landscape film–the terrain in this case being Israel/Palestine, or more specifically the slash inserted between those contested place-names. This slash–which is at once symbolic, social and overwhelmingly physical–runs along Israel’s so-called wall of separation, which Bitton’s camera tracks in its many forms, from the Galilee down to Jerusalem, for almost the full length of her film.
What exactly is this wall? The official position is put forth in the film’s only formal interview, a question-and-answer session marked by the atypical stiffness of the image and the undisguised hostility of the subject. General Amos Yaron, who is in charge of building the wall for Israel’s Ministry of Defense, is shown in a head-on shot at his desk, flanked symmetrically by Israeli flags, as he declares that the wall is simply a security barrier between Israelis and their potential Arab attackers. With evident pride, he calls the project the biggest engineering job in Israel’s history: a zone of barbed wire, ditches, concrete, military road and surveillance equipment some fifty meters wide, planned to run for more than 650 kilometers in length and costing $2 million a kilometer to construct. How does he define its route? Does this “seam,” as he calls it, run between Israel and the Palestinians’ land? General Yaron impatiently dismisses the question: “We see no difference between the sides. They’re both ours.” And what of the damage that the wall is so obviously doing to the land? “Any intervention causes damage,” he snaps, then picks up a folder from the desk and walks offscreen.
Distributed in segments throughout the documentary, this scene with General Yaron is clearly an exception in the film’s fabric. All the other definitions of the wall come from ordinary Palestinians and Israelis: people with no authority, who in some cases are seen glancingly and in others are not shown at all.
“It’s a prison,” says Bilal Mansour, a farmer in Qalqilya. “Without peace, it’s worthless,” says a nameless construction foreman from Nablus–a Palestinian, like almost all the laborers on the wall–adding, “Don’t show my face, or they’ll kill me.” Shuli Dichter, a resident of Kibbutz Maanit, angrily relates how the wall cut off the Palestinian residents of nearby Qafia from the orchards that are their only source of income; last year, the olives simply rotted on the trees. “We Israelis have had a love affair with this land,” he says, but now possessiveness has driven them to deface what they and their neighbors both love. For others in the film, though, neither love nor neighborliness enters the picture. “They shoot at Arabs from there,” cheerfully explains an unseen Israeli child on the soundtrack. “No,” says her friend, “the Arabs shoot at us.”
While you hear these opinions, Bitton is meanwhile showing you the wall itself–showing it in slow, studied shots that function as her own eloquent commentary. In one scene, the lovely view of a distant town is gradually blocked, as cranes lower concrete barriers into place until they occupy the whole frame. Another scene shows the wall as porous: You look down from a hill as Palestinian workers cross at dawn to get to their jobs in Israel. Judging from the evidence before your eyes, you’d think the permeability was meant to vary. In Jerusalem, there are shots of Palestinians sneaking through, even with infants, as they carry on with their daily tasks. But in Bethlehem, Bitton shows streets that are completely depopulated, except for the religious Jews coming by tour bus to pray under armed guard at Rachel’s Tomb.